Tag Archives: citizenism

The Constitution, Citizenism, and the Natural Right of Migration

The moral case for open borders is universal. Most of the practical arguments can also be made in a country-independent fashion. If our case for open borders stands, it applies to all countries, not just the US. However, when arguing for open borders against restrictionists who use American documents for the purpose of arguing for restrictions in the United States, their arguments must be met, inherently, in an US context. These documents can be mistaken in their moral prescriptions and thus talking about them should not be considered as a definitive case for or against open borders. But what this discussion does do is help shed light on the context and history of immigration debates. In so far as an individual believes these documents to hold moral truths, a discussion of what they truly argue for is appropriate. If American history and legal theory are not your cup of tea you may want to just skip this post. Otherwise, let’s have it!

Steve Sailer in discussions of citizenism has pointed to the preamble of the Constitution to help justify a citizenist philosophy in regard to the United States.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

(emphasis mine)

The key being those five words. So does the preamble, and perhaps the Constitution in general, support a citizenist philosophy and allow anti-immigration policies? Fellow blogger Nathan Smith has touched on this issue before. I intend to tackle the issue from a somewhat different angle, specifically whether the Constitution, and indeed other founding documents of this country, justify a citizenist restriction of immigration. But enough prologue, let’s dive into this question.

The Constitution was set up so as to try to compel the government to follow the will of the people within certain limitations. Thus one might legitimately argue that a limited citizenism is somewhat evident within the document, though of a limited sort that also takes into account individual rights. Other portions of the Constitution strongly suggest that individual rights do no stop with American citizens. Take for example the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

(emphasis mine)

This amendment’s terminology would indicate that this right is not restricted to citizens or else the Constitution would say “citizen” as it does elsewhere (see page 370). So the Constitution does provide that non-citizens have rights that must be respected by the government. But does this include the right to migrate? In the powers granted to Congress there is only mention of the obligation to establish a “uniform Rule of Naturalization.” This is not, and was not seen at the time, as debates over naturalization rules in the 1790s show, as the same as establishing a rule on who can live in this country. Yet, in the very next section there is this statement:

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

The fact that there was a limitation on Congress would seem to indicate that after that twenty years Congress does have a right to limit migration. However, there are other ways to interpret the constitution. Lysander Spooner, a nineteenth century abolitionist and legal theorist offers this rule for interpreting the Constitution:

Where rights are infringed, where fundamental principles are overthrown, where the general system of the laws is departed from, the legislative intention must be expressed with irresistible clearness, to induce a court of justice to suppose a design to effect such objects.

Continue reading “The Constitution, Citizenism, and the Natural Right of Migration” »

Are immigration restrictionists pirates?

My co-blogger John Lee recently wrote a post with the intriguing title “Are immigration restrictionists pirates?” It turned out that by “pirates,” John meant, not Bluebeard or the Dread Pirate Roberts, but people who pirate music and videos off the internet. John’s point was that if immigration restrictionists are pirates, i.e., illegal downloaders of music and videos– and haven’t we all done it, at least a bit?– then they’re in no position to mount their moral high horse when talking about undocumented immigration. Commenter Leo was disappointed:

The title of this made it sound a lot more exciting than it was… I was hoping for some sort of metaphor of countries as ships or something… Yeah the title makes sense but the post isn’t as exciting as the title …I’m obviously just childish but the word pirate made me hope for a story of plunder on the high seas…

Based on this reaction, I thought there might be interest in a post comparing immigration restrictionism to plunder on the high seas. So here goes.

First, like pirates, immigration restrictionists have skills. Pirates need to have navigation, combat, recruiting and negotiation skills. They need to know a good deal about recruiting and trade routes. Immigration restrictionists need skills, too. Steve Sailer of VDARE is good at writing. Joe Arpaio has skills at prisoner abuse and attracting national media attention.

Second, like pirates, immigration restrictionists are organized. Pirates had captains, crews, even “pirate codes” which Peter Leeson (author of The Invisible Hook) has argued were sometimes strikingly democratic, a Skull-and-Bones flag. Immigration restrictionists have organizations like VDARE and CIS, as well as ICE, the Minutemen, and so forth.

But clearly, I’m not getting to the heart of the matter.

Let me start over by using a recent Bryan Caplan post as a point of departure. Caplan’s point of departure was a Steve Sailer post (previously quoted here and here at Open Borders). So first, Steve Sailer: Continue reading “Are immigration restrictionists pirates?” »

Future Citizens of All Kinds

We here at Open Borders have made a bit of a history questioning the value of citizenism. This post is a contribution to the debate from a somewhat different focus: the problem of future citizens.

Citizenism advocates like Steve Sailer have been clear that citizenism is a philosophy for promoting the interests of current citizens. For instance, in his article on citizenism versus white nationalism, Sailer explicitly writes (emphasis added):

By “citizenism,” I mean that I believe Americans should be biased in favor of the welfare of our current fellow citizens over that of the six billion foreigners.

Let me describe citizenism using a business analogy. When I was getting an MBA many years ago, I was the favorite of an acerbic old Corporate Finance professor because I could be counted on to blurt out in class all the stupid misconceptions to which students are prone.

One day he asked: “If you were running a publicly traded company, would it be acceptable for you to create new stock and sell it for less than it was worth?”

“Sure,” I confidently announced. “Our duty is to maximize our stockholders’ wealth, and while selling the stock for less than its worth would harm our current shareholders, it would benefit our new shareholders who buy the underpriced stock, so it all comes out in the wash. Right?”

“Wrong!” He thundered. “Your obligation is to your current stockholders, not to somebody who might buy the stock in the future.”

That same logic applies to the valuable right of being an American citizen and living in America.

Just as the managers of a public company have a fiduciary duty to the current stockholders not to diminish the value of their shares by selling new ones too cheaply to outsiders, our leaders have a duty to the current citizens and their descendants.

Leaving alone for the moment the argument that natives do in fact benefit from migrants, specifying current citizens is a necessary step for the citizenist position. For instance, Tino Sanandaji, in a blog post titled Open-Borders Daydreams, uses this citizenist logic to attack those arguing immigration benefits society:

Another amusing line of reasoning increasingly advanced by libertarian economists is that low-skilled immigration is good for “society”, as long as we redefine “society” to include the entire planet!

If the focus is not restricted to current citizens, then migrants might have to be considered future citizens, and therefore their gains would have to be considered in government actions. But this opens up a potential inconsistency: namely why include “descendants” under this system? If you want to include potential future citizens, why not also include migrants? Continue reading “Future Citizens of All Kinds” »

What do governments owe non-citizens?

A common intuitive response to the case for open borders is, “What do I owe someone I’ve never met, who shares no creed, affiliation, or allegiance with me? What does my government owe someone who isn’t even a citizen?” Co-blogger Nathan has already addressed this line of thought in his own way, but I would like to further grapple with the assumptions underlying this citizenist logic.

The problem I see with this intuition about immigration is it totally denies the existence of any human rights. It presumes that all rights must flow from the existence of a nation-state, and that without the state, one would have no rights. From a law enforcement perspective, this is trivially true: the state is the instrument by which human beings mutually guarantee our rights. But from a moral standpoint, it hardly follows that states only owe anything to their constituents, and owe nothing to anyone else.

Suppose it is true that governments’ only role and mandate is to maximise the welfare of their citizens. Would that justify the hostile annexation of a neighbouring state? Would that justify permitting the theft of non-citizens’ property, or assault against non-citizens? Clearly not.

One can argue that the reason modern states prohibit crimes against foreigners is because of the threat of retaliation from foreign states. Does that imply that it would be fine for any one of us to rob, rape, or kill a stateless person, since we have no retaliatory threat to fear?

You could argue then that this would still be a net welfare loss for the nation, because other states might refuse to protect my nation’s citizens in their jurisdictions, unless they see that my nation too upholds the sanctity of human rights. Precisely! Many rights do not flow from the state; they flow from the innate worth and dignity of every human being.

When the topic of open borders comes up, skeptics are quick to say: “But we can’t let everyone in! What do we owe foreigners? We can’t afford to give everyone welfare! And look, not everyone is entitled to be a citizen of my country.” But welfare, suffrage, the privileges of citizenship — those are all political rights, which obviously and by necessity flow only from a state. Beyond political rights, there are fundamental human rights, which the international community and all reasonable human beings recognise derive from no earthly governing body.

Defenders of the status quo love to say “the law is the law; it must be followed” when it comes to immigration. When asked to defend the law on its merits, they insist there is no need to, because every sovereign nation is entitled to its own immigration policy. That may be true, but every human being is entitled to rights of their own too.

We accept that governments have the right to kill people. We accept that they have the right to coerce people. But we would not take it lying down if tomorrow our government told us “I’m going to kill 5,000 people, because I feel like it.” Americans would not be happy if their government said “I’m going to reinstate the draft, because I have the right to do that.” Even the most hardcore restrictionist would probably be unsure about defending the merits of an immigration policy that executes all illegal border-crossers on sight — even though illegal immigrants supposedly have no rights which a foreign state is bound to respect.

None of this is to say that human rights dictate that sovereign governments have no right to an immigration policy, any more than most understandings of international trade would suggest that sovereign governments have no right to a trade policy. But human rights create a strong presumption that governments must rebut before implementing policies that restrict human rights. If a government wants to conscript its residents, it needs to have a better justification than “Because I can.” And if a government wants to tear families apart, or prevent people from looking for gainful employment, it needs to have a better justification than “Because I can.”

When government policies destroy families and destroy jobs, there is a clear obligation to justify these policies. You can argue that the benefits of denying certain rights outweigh the costs. But you cannot suggest that the costs are irrelevant. It is amply evident that every human being has rights, and yet that all these rights can be infringed as long as nation states exist. But we must be clear about why we make the difficult choice to declare some human beings’ rights not worth respecting.

Were the UK and US right to deny visas to Jews fleeing the Holocaust? Is it right for the UK or US to prevent a native-born child from living with his mother, because she is an unauthorised immigrant? Maybe — there’s a plausible argument that what these governments did and do here is right. But it is not an easy, slam dunk argument to make. The conventional response is that there is no need to make such an argument: governments have no obligations to foreigners; foreigners have no rights or dignity as human beings that are worth respecting. I think this conventional response does not actually make the difficult questions around these policy decisions go away.

The nation-state is militarily obsolete

If Germany were invaded by Russia, Germans would probably trust their army of 70,000 (maybe 200,000+ deployable in all forces), with little combat experience, to attempt to defend them against the million-strong armed forces of the Russian Federation, which also has nuclear weapons. But they could hardly expect them to win. If Germany doesn’t feel threatened by Russia, that’s not because they trust Vladimir Putin, nor does it have much to do with Germany’s own armed forces. It is because they could expect aid from their much more powerful NATO allies, especially the United States, but also Britain and France, both militarily stronger than Germany, and other countries, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Portugal, etc., that don’t carry much weight individually, have a good deal of power when all are pooled together. What goes for Germany is far more true of smaller nations like Norway. Germany probably could create a military capable of fending off Russia: certainly they were able to match Russia and better in the past on the battlefield. Norway couldn’t possibly defend itself against Russia on its own, but in NATO it’s safe enough.

Is Europe a special case? Partly, though even there, it may be a special case because it is at the front end of a global trend. But there are a lot of other countries which trust to the United States, to various treaty organizations, to the United Nations, and to international norms for their protection, rather than on any merely national military. Saudi Arabia was long protected by US troops. US troops are still stationed in South Korea, providing some protection against the powerful North. US troops are stationed in Japan, and Japan’s alliance with the US is a crucial strategic asset in its duel with China over the Senkaku islands. Kuwait couldn’t defend itself against Saddam Hussein in 1991, but was liberated by a large US-led international coalition, which was concerned only partly with oil. Partly, it was concerned with a global norm of geopolitics, sometimes called “the sanctity of borders.” If Saddam violated that norm with impunity, the precedent might be followed anywhere in the world. The international community thus intervened for the sake of its own principles. At any rate, it’s clear that Kuwait doesn’t owe its independence to military solidarity among its citizens. It owes it to benevolent foreigners. And the same goes for much of the world. The UN, the US, the West, NATO, have intervened all over the world, and the implicit threat of intervention has an impact far beyond where any intervention has actually taken place. Even the mighty United States doesn’t rely only on its own strength to defend it. When the US was attacked on 9/11, not just Americans but NATO and many other allies collaborated in trying to hunt down al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Even the Iraq war, more controversial, was a coalition affair.

A world based on nation-state military self-sufficiency wouldn’t work very well. This can be seen in theory, if you think about international relations as a game with stronger and weaker players, some with a taste for predation, all living in mutual fear. Strong nation-states could prey on weaker nation-states at little cost. A “balance of power” might sometimes emerge, but as the strength of nation-states varied over time, states would often weaken to the point where they were unable to defend themselves, thus inviting attack by neighbors, either interested in predation, or taking the opportunity to destroy an enemy in its moment of weakness. On the other hand, weak states might gang up on strong states. There is no reason to expect stability in such a system. We shouldn’t expect nation-state military self-sufficiency to lead to peace or security for anyone. And if we look at history, it doesn’t. In particular, the early 20th century was a time of great wars in Europe, and it was precisely at that time that the pursuit of national interest was most unapologetic and unrestrained by other principles. Britain’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich, which was as disastrous as it was unprincipled, taught the world the lesson that to look out merely for narrow national interests is asking for trouble. If you let the bad guys do bad things far away, not only is that cowardly and ungenerous, but it’s stupid because they just gain momentum and are much more powerful by the time they’re coming after you. After World War II, “collective security” became the norm. Most nations delegated most of the job of security upwards, to regional or global organizations, and even the United States supplied the backbone of the regional and global organizations and made itself “leader of the free world,” rather than simply fending for itself. The nation-state became militarily obsolete. Soldiers are still recruited and commanded by national governments, but they almost always work in coalition with each other and usually far away from their national borders, aiding allies rather than defending the homeland.

Why am I stating the obvious here, and what does this have to do with open borders? Well, I’m responding to the argument that Steve Sailer has made for citizenism in this post: Continue reading “The nation-state is militarily obsolete” »